MANILA, Philippines – “Impeach the President? Let us not trivialize the process of impeachment.”
Former Sen Joker Arroyo scoffed at President Benigno Aquino III’s statement daring his critics to impeach him over criticism about the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Arroyo, a staunch critic of the Palace’s spending program, said the administration should just abolish the DAP instead of challenging critics to remove the President from office.
“When overused, [impeachment] is drained of its cathartic value and it becomes terribly stale. I have always maintained that not every misstep of an impeachable officer is impeachable,” Arroyo said in a statement on Thursday, October 3.
“Besides, with DAP in place, impeachment will not reach first base,” he quipped.
The former senator criticized the DAP after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) revealed over the weekend that he was among 20 senators who received DAP disbursements in 2012 and early 2013.
The controversy arose after Senator Jinggoy Estrada said in a privilege speech last week that the senators who voted to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona got P50 million after the trial ended in May 2012, calling it an “incentive.”
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad admitted that senators were given an average of P50 million each in 2012 but said that this was meant to help boost spending, and was not a bribe.
Arroyo called the DAP a crime and illegal, saying it was a mere invention of the DBM and should have been created by law. Arroyo joined Sen Miriam Defensor Santiago, former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Fr Joaquin Bernas SJ, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, in questioning the legality of the DAP.
The critics argue that the DAP, unlike the pork barrel, is not a creation of law and undermines Congress’ power of the purse.
In response, Aquino challenged critics on Wednesday to impeach him but Arroyo said this was pointless.
“The solution? Simple. Just scrap DAP,” Arroyo said. “The DAP is the unfortunate progeny of a misadventure of the DBM. It should simply be abolished.”
“It won’t need congressional action because it is not a creation of Congress. It has no father. All that has to be done is for the President to stop the releases under DAP and proclaim the DAP window closed.”
Unlike Santiago, Arroyo is not in favor of questioning the constitutionality of the DAP before the Supreme Court. He prefers its abolition.
“The country cannot afford to be rocked with endless conflict and controversies. The Supreme Court is saddled with so many constitutional cases. So with the COA [Commission on Audit] and the Ombudsman.”
Arroyo was one of only 3 out of 23 senators who voted to acquit Corona, along with Santiago and Sen Bongbong Marcos. Santiago and Marcos did not get any disbursement from DAP.
A prominent human rights lawyer during the Martial Law years, Arroyo was executive secretary of President Aquino’s mother the late President Cory Aquino but became one of his most vocal critics.
Responding to criticism of the spending program, Aquino said the Constitution gave him power to realign savings, the source of the DAP. Abad explained that the DAP was created to address criticism of underspending, which was blamed for the country’s slow economic growth.
Abad has said that as of October 1, the DBM released P137.3 billion from the DAP. Of the amount, P82.5 billion was released in 2011 and P54.8 billion in 2012.
The DBM said 91% of the DAP releases for 2011 and 2012 was channeled to projects under government agencies and local government units. Only 9% was released to projects identified by legislators.
Abad admits PDAF release during trial
Aquino ally Sen Sergio Osmeña III agreed with the Palace and said the President has powers to realign savings.
“Unfortunately, if you read the entire provision in the Constitution that covers appropriations, you will see that the president has so much power that all we in Congress have to do is give him a one-line budget every year for P2.8 trillion. We don’t have to give details,” Osmeña said in an interview Thursday.
Osmeña said the Constitution gives the President great leeway.
“That’s what makes our country suffer a very powerful president …. The President can always do what he wants to do. He can declare savings, delay the passage of the budget, work on a reenacted budget, which means all the things [not] spent the previous year are now savings and he or she can put them anywhere which is what [former President] Gloria [Arroyo] did.”
Osmeña though said it was wrong and improper for the administration to release pork barrel funds during the Corona impeachment trial. Arroyo has claimed that 11 senators got P500 million in April 2012, a month before Corona’s conviction. Arroyo said he found out about the disbursement from the DBM website.
Abad explained that the amount released from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) to senators during April 2012 was just the last tranche of the PDAF first released as early as May 2011. He said all senators except Arroyo and former Sen Panfilo Lacson got the PDAF, a sign it was not a bribe. Lacson and Arroyo are against the pork barrel.
Abad’s statement though contradicted an earlier pronouncement from Palace Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang that the DBM withheld releasing PDAF during the trial. “You can check the records yourself. DBM did not release PDAF at the time of the impeachment [trial],” Carandang said last week.
Osmeña said releasing PDAF at the height of impeachment was ill-advised.
“If they used their common sense, they should not have given it. Those who accepted should not have accepted. Not during the trial.”
“Like Caesar’s wife, you want to be above suspicion.” – Rappler.com